Should you submit to the top journals?

Let’s assume you have a paper that you think is eventually going to land at a top field journal.  Should you aim higher (a general journal) first and then let it filter down the impact ladder, or should you just submit places you think it’s going to end up?  Should you start with a submission to a GLAM journal?

Viewpoints:

1.  No.  Only submit your best stuff that you think belongs there.  You only have a few shots at getting into a GLAM journal and you don’t want to use them up with crap.

2.  Yes.  Have you read the GLAM journals?  Yes, there’s super amazing wonderful stuff in there.  But there’s also a lot of crap that isn’t as good as your field journal stuff.  It’s a random numbers game with each of your papers having some underlying probability of acceptance.  If you never play, then you’re never going to win.

3.  Yes.  Submitting to top journals is a learning process.  You get feedback from the editor and/or reviewers on how to improve your paper so it will actually be able to land where it belongs.  This is especially important if you don’t have a lot of local people to give you feedback.

4.  No.  You may end up getting the same reviewer who already rejected you for a lower tier journal and they’ll be biased from having rejected you before.  Or they’ll just submit the same rejection as before even if you’ve changed the paper.  (On the other hand, if they do reread the paper, psychology suggests they’ll like it better the second time.)

5.  Yes.  The answer is always yes.

6.  No.  Why do you care?  You have tenure.  Just submit it the place where it’s going to get in right away and get it published so you can move on to the next thing.

7.  Yes.  You have tenure.  That means you can afford to follow long shots.

8.  No.  The patriarchy and the unfairness of it all means that your paper needs to be much better than the connected white guys’ papers are before it gets published in a glam journal.  Don’t waste your time.

9.  Yes.  If you never submit, you will never get published there.

10.  Yes.  If you submit good stuff, then the editor and referees may remember that you’re working on good stuff, even if it’s not of general interest and they will be more likely to remember to send opportunities your way and to cite your work in their own work.

Academic readers:  What do you do?  Do you submit one tier up from where you think you’ll place or do you start right at that tier?  What *should* you do?  Do you follow the same advice you give others?  Non-academic readers:  Should you generally aim high or go with the safer choice?

 

You'd BETTER be pleased to inform me

40 Responses to “Should you submit to the top journals?”

  1. David Stern Says:

    If I have a paper that I think is of more general interest or I think is really good, I submit it to the best journal I think I can get it in. In economics these journals desk reject a lot of papers, so you probably won’t waste much time. I’ve managed to get papers into the top journal in the world (Nature) and in a good but not very regular economics journal (Journal of Economic Literature) this way. But most of my publications are in what would be considered “field journals”. Generally I pick the top journal I think might possibly publish the paper first. That’s usually the top field journal.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      #2 has a similar strategy, but you never know if you are underestimating (or overestimating) what is the “best journal it could get into” until you try. Also there is one journal that is good but has a ferocious lag time that has bitten me before, so it’s not a good choice for me right now.

  2. OMDG Says:

    Always aim high. I’ve definitely had some pleasant surprises. Also, if it’s a grad student’s work, why WOULDN’T you tell them to aim high, since they’re the one doing all the work anyway.

  3. Chelsea Says:

    I’ve never tried to publish in anything other than our top field journal (or slightly down the ladder if the results are pretty dull). I’m in ophthalmology, and the truth is that I’ve never worked on anything that was “sexy” enough to warrant trying for higher up the ladder. I have colleagues who’ve published in top journals (JAMA and NEJM for us) who have said it’s just not worth it. That if you paper is accepted, the journal wants very tight editorial control over your work, and the road to actual publication is a long one and distracts from other projects. Maybe others have a different experience with the top medical journals but that is my second hand one.

  4. gwinne Says:

    Oy. Interesting. I’d say I tend to submit to well respected and high quality journals but not necessarily the TOP. That worked to get me tenure. I only had one piece flat out rejected (not R&R) and I turned around and submitted it to a same level but different audience journal who accepted it without a lot of nonsense.

    Mostly the whole experience left me feeling like I’ll never submit to a journal again (I’m in a book field). Very few editors I worked with were kind and helpful. A lot of disorganized nonsense and unrealistic expectations.

  5. Flavia Says:

    In the humanities, the submissions are double-blind, so #s 1, 8, and 10 don’t apply (well, the “editor” part of 10 still does); there are also some wrinkles when it comes to prestige and specialization — e.g., it might be regarded as more prestigious to get published in the top Shakespeare journal(s) than a top general-Renaissance-literature journal.

    But as to the general question of aiming high, I say yes. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I’m older, have achieved whatever I’m going to achieve, and just want my stuff in print in a timely way — but at this point in my career, when I have tenure but am still building a reputation (and might wish to be able to move jobs once more), it’s still important that I’m publishing in the best possible venues.

  6. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Always aim high, but not absurdly high. Get feedback from trusted colleagues before you submit to calibrate your aim.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      What if colleagues tend to give different advice to male authors than to female authors?

      What if you almost never get anything rejected from top field journals (except desk rejects for stupid reasons, like, your other paper using the same data on a different topic only got published in a top field journal of equivalent stature to this journal and we really want to aim higher) and you start seeing papers on the same topic that don’t even cite yours (though they’re aware of your paper because they talked to you about it) pretending to be the first paper ever written on the subject in a top journal?

      And the editor and the reviewers believed them that they were first (which is the only reason you can think of that their paper got into the top journal rather than a top field journal given what they actually did) because you only published in the top field journal and they weren’t aware of your paper either.

      (Note, my scholarly writing is not as convoluted as the above. I obfuscate on purpose.)

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        If you are aware of a given colleague’s gender bias, then it makes sense to impose a correction factor to compensate.

        If you are almots never getting rejected from top field journals, that is, indeed, a sign that you are not aiming high enough in the aggregate.

        Finally, the situation you describe is yet another cost to aiming too low. In general, the only real cost of aiming too high is time.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Not “a given colleague.” EVERYBODY. That’s what it’s like to be female in a male-dominated field.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        And on top of that, the same people who recommended aiming lower are suddenly impressed when your paper does well, and they don’t even remember recommending say, starting from scratch with a completely different dataset.

        And so much of “quality” is just bravado. People tend to believe what you tell them about your work because very few people are experts in your little area. It’s all very disillusioning.

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        Yes, it sounds disillusioning. But on the plus side, since you have become aware of how this shitte goes in your field, you can take some actions that will hopefully mitigate the effects. Aim high!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I keep catching myself going, Would I give that advice to my stellar junior female colleague? I give her much better advice than I give myself.

        Maybe.

        I certainly give her much more ambitious advice… there’s something to be said with not having to deal with rejection and rewriting and incorporating feedback or wishing you could write a response so if the same referee gets your paper a second time they don’t think you didn’t pay attention to their feedback but had a good reason not to incorporate it that you can’t put in the paper itself because it makes no sense without the context of the referee report. That sort of thing.

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        Dunno about your field, but in my experience, you are overweighting the potential downside of having a reviewer for a top journal see your paper again for a less prestigious one. Assuming that the work has to be conceptually and technically sound to be published at any of the journals we are talking about, reviewers do calibrate their opinions of suitability on the basis of “breadth of interest and impact” to the venues they are reviewing for. I recently received an editorial decision that said “the reviewers find your work to be very sound, but not of sufficient general interest for our journal. They recommend submitting it to . So we submitted it to and asked for the same reviewers.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        There’s also always the worry that aiming high is pointless because the same biases hurt from being female so it’s still pointless to submit high, even if that wouldn’t be true had I a more masculine first name. Like, the only reason I’m getting into top field journals is because the papers could really go in top journal but they’re not because the referee prior is to find a reason to reject, not to find improvements for an acceptance. And there’s just no reason to reject for the top field journals (though sometimes editors manufacture them!).

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        Well, let’s put it this way: You already know what happens when you submit almost all your shitte to your top field-specific journals. Now you can find out what happens when you submit more of it to top general journals. Or you can keep talking yourself out of it, which is what I’m hearing here.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        No, actually between writing this post and posting it, we submitted to a top general interest journal and it came back rejected. Some other benefits accrued though (so I added #10 to the list).

        But we’re back to the top general interest journal vs. top field journal choice again.

  7. xykademiqz Says:

    I am a theorist and have had several glamour mag publications with experimental collaborators; they are a pain in the butt. Each one of mine has been considerable time and effort of many, many people to make it as complete and compelling as possible; I end up being the second or third author from the back (the ones farther back and thus deemed more important are experimentalists) and my student or postdoc is second or third from the front; for us the amount of work done on each one of these collaborative papers was huge but I am not sure the payoff is commensurate, as it’s still only one paper and people tend not to recognize how much work even a middle author puts into these. However, these papers do get cited quite well, so they didn’t hurt my h-index or the overall look of my CV. Also, if you are the senior (last) author, they do help with recognition and getting invited talks.

    The review and publication process can get quite lengthy and, as someone said above, they are very anal about editing. I am generally not in favor of wasting time — if something is a good society-level paper, most of the time send it where it belongs and where it will be accepted. I would say you shouldn’t send every paper in a high-profile journal, as I have seen some people do — waste everyone’s time by sending every turd nugget to a Glam Mag. Dude, not everything you write is gold.

    However… Every so often you should try to aim higher. If you really believe something is a good, interesting piece of work, among your best or perhaps the best you have written so far, I would say give it a shot. As Candid Engineer (who sadly seems to blog no more) said once upon a time “Publishing in Science (or another Glam Mag) is like a threesome: if you don’t ask, it will never happen.”

    Good luck!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I hope it’s not like a threesome… because if you ask for a threesome inappropriately that can destroy relationships and ruin reputations.

      • xykademiqz Says:

        :) I am sure there are some puns involving friction in the review process or otherwise that are just begging to be made…

        But seriously, if you really believe the work is among your best thus far, I would say go for it.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        No, I don’t think any of my work is among “my best”… I have always thought that most of my work is solid top field journal work (because I don’t stop working on it until it is), and I submit it to top field journals and it gets accepted at a top field journal (not always the first top field journal I send it to).

        But lately I’ve been noticing that a heck of a lot worse papers than mine get accepted into top general interest journals. (Not worse papers by solely women, mind you. Women’s papers in the top general interest journals tend to be careful perfection.)

        And I’ve been noticing that many of my high flying colleagues (not the ones at top 10 schools, but the ones who are climbing up the ladder) submit everything at the top journal and make their way down the chain, using the feedback they get while doing so to make their papers better. They don’t seem to mind that it takes forever because they always have a ton of papers under review (partly because the process takes so long).

        So I don’t know. The advice I got from my grad school professors was to only submit general interest work and that “I would know” if my work was good enough. But I’m thinking that maybe that’s not true, and maybe when a person starts never failing, one needs to shoot a bit higher. And that maybe there’s some benefit to having editors and reviewers being forced to see your high quality work, even if it isn’t “of general interest”. (And I suspect there may be some gender bias in what is “of general interest”.)

      • xykademiqz Says:

        Not worse papers by solely women, mind you. Women’s papers in the top general interest journals tend to be careful perfection.

        Ah, yes.

        And I’ve been noticing that many of my high flying colleagues (not the ones at top 10 schools, but the ones who are climbing up the ladder) submit everything at the top journal and make their way down the chain, using the feedback they get while doing so to make their papers better. They don’t seem to mind that it takes forever because they always have a ton of papers under review (partly because the process takes so long).

        This is very true. As you say, I find these people tend to be men. And this technique does tend to shaft the students and postdocs, who are on the clock; I have always erred on the side of quick for that reason more than anything else. I think many of the high fliers are quite ruthless, actually, in that the plans or timeline of any individual student or postdoc don’t seem to compute in their own agenda at all. I suppose that’s how it has to be if you are truly ambitious.

        If you can spare the time (i.e. there is no looming grant renewal deadline for which this paper has to be out) go for it.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Students and post-docs tend to have long time-lines in my profession, so they may benefit from throwing long. It’s the 3-years before tenure and the about-to-get-scooped that have to worry about turnaround.

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        The advice I got from my grad school professors was to only submit general interest work and that “I would know” if my work was good enough. But I’m thinking that maybe that’s not true, and maybe when a person starts never failing, one needs to shoot a bit higher. And that maybe there’s some benefit to having editors and reviewers being forced to see your high quality work, even if it isn’t “of general interest”. (And I suspect there may be some gender bias in what is “of general interest”.)

        Yeah, that was bad advice, and your revised thinking about it is on point.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think better advice would be, “if you wouldn’t be embarrassed to have them see it.”

  8. becca Says:

    2a. Yes. The patriarchy applies across journals, so if you have to play more times to win, choose the higher payout slot machine.
    There are no prizes at the end of your career for never getting rejections.

    The only reason this is trumped is if there is an urgency issue at a critical career point (e.g. the first author student needs to graduate and is moving across the country, or you can get it in with a friend at a lower tier journal *right* before your tenure dossier goes in, ect.).

  9. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Another thought is that when things aren’t published in top general interest journals, sometimes people think less of the topic. There’s a fantastic paper that we often cite that only got published in a 2nd tier field journal (in fact, many people just cite the working paper version!) and people would probably think more of the topic if she’d been able to get it in someplace more prestigious. I don’t know if she just gave up or if she needed the paper for tenure quick or if it was really universally rejected or what, but it would have been a service to the rest of us if her paper had placed higher! Think of the children!

  10. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    #2 didn’t really realize that #1’s reviews are not blind at all. That puts a much different complexion on things! In my field the reviews are double-blind and I can’t even imagine them not being blind. My brain asplode. I would *hate* it if it weren’t blind! That makes a lot of difference.

  11. Matt MacManes (@PeroMHC) Says:

    How about NO, because f*ck glam and its pathogenic consequences for our discipline. The sooner we all recognize that point, the sooner we’ll all be able to move on with doing what we love – science.

  12. Tragic Sandwich Says:

    I was having lunch with two friends; one is a lawyer, and the other is in law school. The topic of study guides came up, and the law student said, “I know they don’t want us to use them, but I’m really tempted sometimes.”

    I said, “I don’t know exactly what those are, but I can guarantee that the men in your class are using them, no matter what the professor says about them. Use all the tools available, because that’s what the men are doing.”

    So I guess I’d say, do the best work you can, and submit where you want to. Be sure you’re not inventing rules that only limit you.

  13. harriet Hopf Says:

    It’s okay to aim high, but if you get rejected and resubmit to another journal, make sure you revise based on the reviewers comments. Because it’s likely to be the same reviewer at the next journal, and they won’t be pleased to have spent time on a careful review that gets ignored.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The irritating thing is that not all reviews are helpful and there’s only so much clarification a person can do, and only so many bizarre mostly off topic footnotes a person can add.

  14. RBOC | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] feel unloved by inside higher ed.  Our last few academia posts have been completely ignored.  […]


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